IBM's AlphaWorks site recently launced an accessibility topic to host technologies that aid in the production of accessible solutions and which themeselves are assistive. AlphaWorks is a great venue for this effort as developer's can take these for a trial run, provide feedback to the developer or researcher, and in some instance decide to license the technology. I used alphaWorks when we wanted user feedback on the Self Voicing Kit for Java. Often, researchers develop technologies in a vaccum due to a broad range of obstacles. AlphaWorks is a way to get over the hurdles.
A number of technologies are currently posted on the site. I will discuss three:
aDesigner: This is a disability simulator for people with vision impairments. What I like about aDesigner is it is the only tool I am aware of which can simulate some visual disorder such as the effects of aging on the cornea and how it distorts visions for our aging population. It also simulates issues with color blindness which are difficult to perceive for those that are not impaired.
KeyboardOptimizer: Operating systems have a number keyboard accessibility options to help users with motor disabilities to type more easily and accurately. They depend on the user configuring these settings manually. There are also numerous settings that may need configuring to address your needs. Your needs may also change over time. This technology adapts to the individual as they type. It monitors how you interact with your computer and adjusts the keyboard response to meet your needs. This technology, developed by Shari Trewin and is an accumulation of years of research.
Web Adaptation Technology: This is a project led by Vicki Hanson is a technology that adapts web content for Seniors. This project originally sarted as a Web transcoding server research project for which I was a technical lead, in 2001, called the Web Accessibility Gateway. Today this is an add-on to Internet Explorer. We have a number of IBM customers using this and it is has a number of adaptions for seniors including: magnification, TTS of selected text, smart page linearization, varying color schemes, and the KeyboardOptimizer.
Should these technologies appear in IBM products or would you like to use them yourselves? You decide. I encourage developers to provide feedback to these researchers.[Read More]
Accessibility Strategy and Architecture
From archive: August 2005 X
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Well, accessibility awareness has hit the mainstream. The November 3, 2005 IBM Systems Journal is dedicated to accessibility.
As an author I just received my early copy. The article I co-authored covered accessibility requirements for users with vision impairments. Section 10, "Lessons learned - Microsoft Windows Today" covers the evolution of accessibility on Windows. Windows accessibility has evolved over time and it provides an excellent example of what can happen when a comprehensive accessibility architecture and strategy are not employed up front. Today, producing accessible solutions can be a very expensive proposition on Windows due to interoperability problems.
I look forward to reading the article entitled Semantic triage for increased Web accessibility since we are using semantic web concepts to address the accessibility of Dynamic HTML.[Read More]
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Let start with Internet banking. Banks need to support a broad range of customers, including seniors, blind, low vision, and mobility impaired users. All of these customers have difficulty using a mouse. Web authors can now create the keyboard functionality, look and feel, and accessibility of the GUI. Users, accustomed to the keyboard navigation of a GUI will appreciate this for two reasons.
Another business opportunity is education. Imagine a college, who has to get their students registered for classes, manage their scholarships and loans, view the school calendar, or possibly manage their own dynamic calendar. My own daughter will be attending college for the first time this year and I am keenly aware of the opportunities for this technology. Students want to use Windows, the Mac, and Linux to access the same information. Site administrators have to address all of these issues and having to support a fat operating system GUI for all these operating systems that is accessible just is not in the cards. Like a GUI, RIAs can hide much of the information until it is needed without having to navigate through pages of static content. For users who are blind this is a huge productivity gain. Also, these UI can be spoken with rich information, as in a GUI. For example, a blind user can hear their screen reader announce they are on a menu and it as a popup. A user who is blind may also hear verbose contextual information such as: you are on a notebook tab x 1 of 2.This is clearly a paradigm shift.
As the article states, this is part of an ongoing effort in the W3C which IBM is leading to make RIAs accessible. Like all W3C recommendations this will need to have industry implementation. Firefox is the driving factor in making this a reality. Furthermore, IBM is working with AT vendors to support the technology. Currently, GW Micro and Freedom Scientific have versions of their screen readers in private beta using Firefox and users are raving about it. With these efforts around Firefox in place, developers can now start to develop accessible RIAs today rather than wait.
Going forward, Firefox is uniquely positioned to deliver the business opportunities of RIAs. It runs on multiple operating systems. Authors can enable their web content once and render it Firefox on multiple operating systems. Going forward, Firefox is being geared to support the accessibility infrastructures on both Linux and Windows.
The accessibility standards targeted at supporting RIAs may be rendered on Internet Explorer as well as Firefox and in fact make use of the keyboard support and the ability to drive magnification like Firefox. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer currently does not support this new emerging standard with screen readers. Businesses and federal agencies evaluating their browser strategy should take another look at Firefox 1.5 when it's released with the benefits of RIAs in mind.
See the HTML Accessibility Preview for more information on the Firefox accessibility effort on RIAs.[Read More]
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We showed this to technical leads at Yahoo and AOL and the opportunity for creating accessible, Rich Internet Applications and delivering desktop solutions on par with a rich desktop applicaions was apparent.
Completion of this project will accelerate the standards effort. As we speak a cross-cutting, self describing role taxonomy and accessibility property specficationa are getting close to working draft based on proven implementations. Industry involvement to the standards effort is now growing with the addition of Adobe. The work being developed is cross-cutting in that it has applicability to:
In the current Deer Park Alpha of Firefox, XUL makes use of the same accessibility extensions for XHTML to enable some of the custom GUI widgets found in the chrome.
Another side-benefit of this work is the creation of a new role called "presentation." The use of the presentation role tells the browser that there should be no accessibility API support for a particular document element. This can be applied to table elements to indicate that the content is only presentational and for assistive technologies not to process the table elements as a table. This eliminates the need for authors to use a special style sheet to reproduce table formatting. DHTML often uses tables to produce the visible formatting needed for rich GUI-like elements. Indicating to the user agent and assistive technology that an element is only presentational removes the burden of guessing when to treat markup as presentational vs markup containing significant semantics which might impact the user experience.[Read More]